by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Joe Allbaugh, interim director at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said “my gut tells me” there will not be any indictments forthcoming as a result of a current multi-county grand jury investigation of the state’s death penalty process.
Referring to this reporter Albaugh said, “Pat, I have no idea when the grand jury is going to issue their report, I have no insight into what they’ve been taking about, nor do I have any idea if anybody’s going to be indicted. But my gut tells me no. I’m trying to find the “there’s” there. Yes, there were mistakes made, but it’s not any different than any other human error. We didn’t have the systems of checking, double checking and triple checking medications.”
He continued, “All of those processes and procedures have been totally rewritten, that even started before I showed up in January and I have reviewed those and have added some addition procedures that have to take place to insure our ability that these mistakes will not ever be replicated. We practice every month, this all volunteer execution team, folks know one another on the team, but nobody knows who they are in the system and that’s the way it ought to be.”
In response to a question from this reporter, Allbaugh made the comments while speaking at a “Watch-Out” session held before a packed room at Kamps 1910 Café.
Sponsored by Oklahoma Watch, the session was moderated by the news organization’s Executive Editor, David Fritze.
Responding to a follow-up from Fritze, Allbaugh confirmed he supports the death penalty. He continued, “I am totally confident of what we have put in place today is the right approach. As long as Oklahoma is going to have the death penalty, I favor the death penalty. There are five who have exhausted their appeals right now. And, whenever the report comes out and the grand jury is done with their business, I understand that they’re in town yesterday, today and tomorrow, who knows what’s going to happen.
“But even when they issue their report, the Attorney General, maybe rightly so, has issued a 150 day buffer period, so that’s five months, and others will exhaust their appeals. We’re probably looking at early fall, before we restart – if we’re allowed to restart. I have to commend the legislature because in the last couple of days they have taken steps to give us the authority to apply for the necessary drug license, … to have and store those drugs on site and warehouse them properly for upcoming executions.
“But if I wasn’t sure that we could do this right we wouldn’t be moving forward. But I am confidence based upon the exercises. We practice different scenarios, we just don’t run through the same…and I’m getting into the weeds here.. that really isn’t’ appetizing. … I’ll end it up there.”
In all, Allbaugh spoke for an hour, and answered a wide range of questions from Fritze and members of the audience.
In response to a question from Tim Farley of Red Dirt Report, an online news organization based in Oklahoma City, Allbaugh said, “I am for the medicinal use of marijuana. I am not for its recreational use.”
Allbaugh told Fritze that as the state Corrections Department faced rising turmoil last winter, he contacted a friend in Oklahoma, his native state, to express interest in taking over the top spot at the agency, but that he stressed, “I don’t want to be a caretaker.” The friend, a knowledgeable of the state’s challenges, passed Allbaugh’s sentiments along, and “ten minutes later,” Gov. Mary Fallin called him.
Allbaugh then communicated with a member of the commission that governs the Corrections agency, beginning a process that soon led to his selection as Interim Director.
That choice was surprising to many observers. However, he related during this week’s “Watch-Out” that his political and management skills had included helping to shepherd early stages of a process examining problems in Texas in 1995 and 1997, during the tenure of Gov. George W. Bush.
That process, Allbaugh said, laid the basis for historic prison and criminal justice reforms that began implementation in 2006.
Those reforms included diversion of non-violent offenders, including those with drug and alcohol abuse issues, into alternative programs. After several years, the first signs of significant progress in curbing the Lone Star State’s prison population were apparent.
In recent years the state has canceled plans for additional prisons. Today, Texas is among the handful of states where prison reform has lowered crime rates, reduced costs and afforded better prospects for those who have served time to avoid returning to prisons.
Watch the Oklahoma Watch session video here